Presently, when in the early dawn a fresher breeze, mounting upward from the sea and the deep harbor, reaches us, Chrysantheme rises and slyly shuts the panels I have opened.
Before that, however, she will have risen at least three times to smoke: having yawned like a cat, stretched herself, twisted in every direction her little amber arms, and her graceful little hands, she sits up resolutely, with all the waking sighs and broken syllables of a child, pretty and fascinating enough; then she emerges from the gauze net, fills her little pipe, and breathes a few puffs of the bitter and unpleasant mixture.
Then comes tap, tap, tap, tap, against the box to shake out the ashes. In the silence of the night it makes quite a terrible noise, which wakes Madame Prune. This is fatal. Madame Prune is at once seized also with a longing to smoke which may not be denied; then, to the noise from above, comes an answering tap, tap, tap, tap, from below, exactly like it, exasperating and inevitable as an echo.
THE PRAYERFUL MADAME PRUNE
More cheerful are the sounds of morning: the cocks crowing, the wooden panels all around the neighborhood sliding back upon their rollers; or the strange cry of some fruit-seller, patrolling our lofty suburb in the early dawn. And the grasshoppers actually seem to chirp more loudly, to celebrate the return of the sunlight.
Above all, rises to our ears from below the sound of Madame Prune’s long prayers, ascending through the floor, monotonous as the song of a somnambulist, regular and soothing as the plash of a fountain. It lasts three quarters of an hour at least, it drones along, a rapid flow of words in a high nasal key; from time to time, when the inattentive spirits are not listening, it is accompanied by a clapping of dry palms, or by harsh sounds from a kind of wooden clapper made of two discs of mandragora root. It is an uninterrupted stream of prayer; its flow never ceases, and the quavering continues without stopping, like the bleating of a delirious old goat.
“After washing the hands and feet,” say the sacred books, “the great God Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, who is the royal power of Japan, must be invoked; the manes of all the defunct emperors descended from him must also be invoked; next, the manes of all his personal ancestors, to the farthest generation; the spirits of the air and the sea; the spirits of all secret and impure places; the spirits of the tombs of the district whence you spring, etc., etc.”
“I worship and implore you,” sings Madame Prune, “O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, royal power! Cease not to protect your faithful people, who are ready to sacrifice themselves for their country. Grant that I may become as holy as yourself, and drive from my mind all dark thoughts. I am a coward and a sinner: purge me from my cowardice and